If someone had told David Nail last year that he'd be spending his time off the road in 2015 working on his fourth studio album, he wouldn't have believed it.
"To be honest, I had no intentions of making a record at this point in the year," the singer-songwriter tells Rolling Stone Country. "I took the first two-and-a-half, three months off for the first part of the year. I wanted to get away from playing music and traveling and all that. But at the same time, I miss the creative part of making music. I really dug in and started writing immediately in January and wrote two or three songs that I wanted to go in and record. . . but not really for the record, I just wanted to record demos of them to start the process."
Executives at Nail's record label, MCA Nashville, caught wind of his new work and after hearing the new tunes, persuaded him to start the album.
"Any time you get that vote of confidence, it motivates you and it shows they still believe in you as an artist," Nail reasons.
That confidence boost resulted in more songs "appearing out of nowhere," the singer humbly confesses. He is still riding that wave of creativity, writing more songs for the project that hit personal, emotional notes, and recording them during rare stretches of days at home in Nashville.
"It's going to be good," Nail says of the album, "but I feel weird saying that because every artist says, 'This is the best album [I've] ever made.' But since we were able to do it mostly all in one sitting, the theme of the record fits more front-to-back than any other record I'd made in the past."
Much like his last LP, 2014's I'm a Fire, the new set of tunes is reflective of Nail's past and present. One that he notes strikes a particularly personal chord is "Home," inspired by his hometown (and Sheryl Crow's) of Kennett, Missouri. The 36-year-old singer was prepping to headline a concert back home and was admittedly anxious about it, with those nerves following him into a writing session with Lori McKenna and Barry Dean.
"I didn't have the goal of writing a song about my hometown, about my life, but with the anxiousness of that show being a few days away, it was very much on my mind," Nail recalls. "I told myself a long time ago that I wanted to limit the reflective songs and songs about my childhood and how I was raised. But I've always been a sucker for them and I feel like this was the first one that I had written that really captures the feelings that I feel when I go back and those early relationships that I had. It set the tone for it to be a personal record."
Staying with that theme, Nail debuted what he hopes to be the title track of the album on the Grand Ole Opry in April. "Fighter will be the title, if I have my way," he reveals. Co-written with Troy Verges and Scooter Carusoe, "Fighter" marks Nail's first time writing with Verges, an Oscar nominee who's penned hits for Little Big Town, Hunter Hayes, Faith Hill and a laundry list of other country stars. Nail credits Verges with the title of the song. . . and Ryan Gosling with indirectly provoking a creative twist in the studio when he recorded it.
"I'm comfortable enough in my own skin to acknowledge that The Notebook is one of my favorite movies," Nail admits. "One of my favorite scenes is when Noah [Gosling] is telling Allie [Rachel McAdams], 'Hey, we fight and you're a pain in the ass 99 percent of the time, but that other one percent is what motivates me and makes me love you more.' I love the sentiment of a guy who is in a relationship talking about all these things he knew when they got together, but as they got into the thick of the relationship and came across some hard times, the fact that she has stuck her feet in the sand and is ready to fight for it is surprising, but all the more inspiring for him to want to do the same.
"When the guys started playing ["Fighter"] in the studio, I was like, 'I want you guys to go ahead and play it, and when I feel like I'm in the right mindset, I'll start singing,'" the singer continues. "And I think it's a minute intro, but it's just got a unique guitar sound. We've been playing it live for the last month and it's been really neat to see. Fans might not understand a word I'm saying, but I think they'll like it just the way it sounds."
That perspective on relationships follows a new trend in Nail's music, which began with I'm a Fire: positivity. This departure from sad songs arrives after the musician came to terms with his longtime struggles with depression and anxiety. His last album had more uptempo tunes than its predecessors, which is something he wanted to continue with the upcoming LP.
"Even if they're about looking back, it's with a positive spin on it," he says of the new songs. "I'm at a great place in my life and I'm just trying to challenge myself. . . I'm always wanting to make it better and find better songs."
And better songs mean better shows. Next month, Nail will start opening shows for Little Big Town — a nice fit, he believes, because of their similar fan bases. His live sets have been in the back of his mind while making the album.
"The biggest thing I've taken so far out of this record is about how far this is going to take our live show — the energy of these songs," he says. "When someone leaves my show, I want them to say, 'Man, that was good.'"